SPRINGFIELD — The General Assembly has granted Illinois agritourism businesses relief from liability insurance costs.

In the recent session, lawmakers passed legislation giving agribusinesses a $1,000 income tax credit for liability insurance premiums and passed the provisions along with other tax measures to the Governor JB Pritzker.

For years, the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association have worked to resolve agritourism liability issues against opposition from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA). After years of inaction due to ITLA opposition, Senator Rachelle Aud Crowe, D-Glen Carbon and the office of Senate Speaker Don Harmon, with the help of State Rep. Katie Stuart , D-Edwardsville, have actively partnered with the IFB and lobbied each chamber to deliver agritourism assistance.

Stuart has worked to pass relief for Liberty Apple Orchard in Edwardsville and other agritourism ventures.

“It’s really important to support these small businesses,” Stuart said. “The owners (of Liberty Orchard) and I have had many conversations. I understand that their perspective on being outdoors (at the orchard) presents the same risk as you being outdoors in your yard.

Illinois farmers lead the nation in soybean, corn, and pork production. But some also contribute to the state’s economy by providing immersive and recreational experiences for visitors through pumpkin patch, wagon rides, tree farms, petting zoos and more, Crowe said. .

“As small business owners, agritourism operators truly make our state unique by bringing visitors to our communities to participate in authentic farming experiences,” Crowe said. “By providing state relief to agritourism operators for liability insurance premiums, Illinois is supporting local businesses that promote economic growth throughout the state and play an important role in teaching our children and to our families the importance of agriculture in our daily lives.”

“It’s huge for agritourism and local food,” said Mark Raney, associate director of state law at the IFB. “A lot of people want to profit from these activities, but liability insurance is a huge barrier to this niche market given its cost.”

Raney noted that a recent USDA report showed that 85% of agritourism businesses earn less than $25,000. “These are small businesses,” he added. The state’s Trial Lawyers Association has fought efforts to provide agritourism businesses with limited liability protection rather than going to court, Raney said.

“Specialty Growers are unique in that we grow fruits, vegetables and herbs for direct use by Illinois families, while inviting our customers to have a fun and educational experience on our farms,” ​​said said Randy Graham, president of the Illinois Specialty Growers Association (ISGA). Because specialty growers work in agriculture and tourism, they “incur a higher risk of liability than most,” he noted.

Graham thanked Crowe and Stuart for understanding the needs of specialty growers and their work to ensure adoption of the liability insurance tax credit. He also underlined the success of the partnership between the IFB and the ISGA.

The legislation defines the agritourism businesses that would be eligible for the tax credit for civil liability insurance and specifies the services that would not meet the criteria of the law. Raney explained that qualified agritourism businesses would need certification from the Illinois Department of Agriculture after new rules are passed.

Eligible agri-tourism businesses include those offering on-site historical, cultural and educational programs, tours, animal exhibits and petting zoos, crop mazes, pick-your-own harvests, horseback riding, hay wagon and sleigh rides.

Under the law, ineligible businesses only offer hunting, fishing, rodeos, amusement rides, mountain biking or motorized activities, outdoor recreation, and serve as wedding and concert venues .

For agritourism businesses, liability insurance is very expensive.

“We hope the income tax credit will ease that burden,” said Raghela Scavuzzo, IFB’s Associate Director of Food Systems Development and ISGA’s Executive Director. “We hope this credit will inspire them to continue doing business and stimulate new agribusiness ventures.”

This story was distributed as a cooperative project between the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and agriculture news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.